Published: 12/09/2014 19:01 - Updated: 12/09/2014 09:47

Highlands helped send Michael around the world

Michael Palin talks about his latest volume of diaries at Eden Court this weekend.
Michael Palin talks about his latest volume of diaries at Eden Court this weekend.

FEW people could claim to be as well travelled as Michael Palin.

Yet, for all the places the BBC’s favourite globetrotter has visited on every continent — Antarctica, included — he admits to having a very soft for Scotland and not just because his mother’s family are of Scots descent.

Without Scotland, he might never have become a part of Monty Python or embarked on that later career as a travel presenter.

"The Edinburgh Festival in 1964 was a turning point in my life," he said.

"I came up with a revue from Oxford University that Terry Jones was in, so we met up there. This was the first time in my life I had a little glimmer of hope that I could do this for a living. Up to that time, I was going to do what my dad thought I should do, something respectable in a suit."

That new career brought him back to Scotland time and again, perhaps most notably when making Monty Python and The Holy Grail — "because the scenery was free", Palin pointed out.

"I get a big kick whenever I come up to Scotland. It’s the most beautiful countryside and people have been very friendly."

If Edinburgh played a major role in Palin deciding on a comedy career, then the Highlands can make a claim for setting him on the path to becoming the BBC’s world traveller of choice, even if that began with a relatively modest journey from London to Kyle of Lochalsh for Great Railway Journeys of The World.

"That one documentary had a knock-on effect seven years later when the BBC were looking for someone to do Around The World in 80 Days. So I’ve got a lot to thank for that documentary," he said.

The third volume, newly published volume, of Palin’s collected diaries, Travelling to Work, begin three days into his 80 day challenge with Palin on a boat on the Adriatic and terrified of what lies ahead.

"It seemed a great idea, going around the world, but now I had to supply a programme," he recalled.

"You don’t have a script, it’s all going to be just my encounters and whatever I say and whatever I do. For a few days I was in deep anxiety and doubt as to whether it would all work. Then, gradually, I realised what a wonderful opportunity it was."

That decision changed not only Palin’s life, but television’s approach to making travel programmes.

Today we are used to comedians and actors from Paul Merton to Joanna Lumley fronting travel programmes, but back in the 1980s, it was an area of television that was still dominated by presenters from a journalism background like Alan Whicker, subject of Monty Python sketch Whicker Island, where the team donned Whicker’s trademark moustache and glasses to bemoan the shortage of rich people to interview.

"I could never tell if he liked that or not," Palin laughed.

"I’ve got a feeling he loved it really. There are not many other journalists got six Pythons all dressed up like them!

"I remember Alan being sniffy when I did Around The World and saying I was just an actor, but later we got on very well, actually, and I was very fond of him."

 Unlike the summer's Monty Python reunuion shows at the O2 Arena, there will be an element of audience interaction for his book tour dates, Palin says.

"It is not going to be a formal thing with microphones passed round, but the second half, which is about comedy, is very much about the place that I’m in," he said.

"If I’m in Inverness or Southsea or Bristol, I’ll talk about something that links me to that place, so hopefully there will be a bit of talk with the audience. But it’s not going to be built in. That half is going to be very much improvised. If it looks good and feels good, then certainly I’d like to chat to the audience."

At the age of 71, Palin reckons he is unlikely to do any major travel series in the future along the lines of like Around The World In 80 Days or Pole to Pole, but he has also rediscovered the joy of acting with a leading role in forthcoming supernatural drama Remember Me.

That does not mean his travelling days are behind him, and even for someone who has covered as much mileage as Palin, there are still places he wants to see.

"I once said Middlesbrough and got the Mayor of Middlesbrough banging on at me for four minutes on the radio, so I won’t say that," Palin said.

"I’ve been to most places, but where I would most like to go is the southern area of Russia and Mongolia. There’s an area called the Altai Mountains where a lot of the people who eventually ended up in Europe — Genghis Khan and all those — came from there. I’d love to experience what that’s like, so one day, I hope, I’d love to go to Mongolia."

Michael Palin brings his Travelling To Work Tour to Aberdeen Music Hall on Saturday 13th September and Eden Court Theatre, Inverness, on Sunday 14th September.

For more from Michael Palin, see this week's Inverness Courier and Highland News.

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